I imagine there will be quite a few anxiously awaiting release of A Human Comedy by Unteachers, while others may just be wondering why the anticipation exists. For those unknowing, which did briefly include me, Unteachers is Stephen Mark Sarro’s new project/band since his previous band Tantrum of the Muse (TOTM). While never at TOTM fan, I do remember hearing them on a Takehold Records comp back in the late 90’s. I was a fan of early scary death metal sounding Underoath (with Dallas Taylor) and Few Left Standing, both of which were on Takehold Records and as a result was exposed to TOTM that way. Without revisiting TOTM, my recollection is that they were just weird noise and at the time, I had no time for that.
With an album titled The Heart is a Two Headed Sperm and a cover showing a pear headed person playing a split pear like a violin, you get the idea. In a fairly recent interview, Stephen Mark Sarro explains, “ TOTM was all about putting our hearts on the table, totally exposed and saying “If you feel this way, and you still love Jesus, its ok. Musically, being exposed to so much at the time, it helped create the kind of mess of sounds that TOTM covered.” (Sound in the Signals interview, link below) For TOTM, it was all about the live show and the albums never really lived up to the live show experience and by 2004, TOTM had called it quits. With Unteachers, Stephen Mark Sarro goes on to say that the goal is to make music that he wants to hear and although the music is similar to TOTM it is a “different thing”.
So what is this “different thing” and is it so different? I would say yes and no. To me each Unteachers song could almost be a different band as the influences and sounds can vary wildly. Very difficult to explain their sound in simple terms, but I hear a mix of Rush, Jane’s Addiction, and Norma Jean. The album starts out with some eerie samples in “A Rebel’s Joy” “…This is the story of the happiest man in the world” and ends with an increasingly distorted…”somebody cares about you” that leads straight into a chaos of screaming and guitars in “As Bright as Black” which is where the Norma Jean reference comes into play. Distorted screaming vocals and driving guitars carry the first part of the song but then the song dissolves into a clean singing, dreamy sequence that is eventually joined by heavy instruments again. I was instantly transported back to Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction during this song and throughout much of the album. There is that constant change between the heavy, dark, and angry sounds to the pretty and melodic.
Stephen Mark Sarro’s vocals vary throughout the album but fit very well with whatever sound style happens to be at play in the moment. You can hear everything from the screaming metalcore to Geddy Lee (Rush) to Perry Farrell (Jane’s Addiction). Production and musicianship are also very strong on the album with the rougher music keeping the roughness, while the clean, calmer sections are suitably smooth.
There are definitely some ambitious tracks on the album, for instance, the 10 minute long “Higher Horses”, which stays mostly within the calm, dreamy realm of sound and begins with two minute of atmospheric keyboards before some clean guitar and subdued drums and bass join in. The song stays mostly instrumental for the first six minutes before the clean vocals begin.
A Human Comedy is an album that will likely appeal greatly to TOTM fans as it has a significantly level of weirdness in terms of the variety of music involved. Much like TOTM, this can be a challenge for those not familiar with this sort of thing. In this case though, Unteachers have mellowed a bit and perhaps become a little more toward the normal side. As mentioned earlier, my first quick impression was that this was very similar to Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction in vocal style and strength and in the mix between the heavy and beautiful and the more I listen, the more I’m convinced this is a good comparison, especially if you throw in some Rush to the mix. This album asks the listener for some investment of time and an open mind and those willing to go there will find a lot to like.
Written by John Jackson
1. A Rebel’s Joy
2. As Bright As Black
3. Fear Of Silence
4. Swim With A Knife
5. Cast My Cares
7. Higher Horses
8. Death Has Been Swallowed
Record Label: Veritas Vinyl, 2014
Stephen Mark Sarro – Vocals, all instruments
Sound in the Signals interview of Stephen Mark Sarro:
Video for ‘Cusp’